How do you take better meeting notes?

Before we go any further, let’s first pin down whether your target is to take better notes in meeting or minutes in meeting. While both are used to sum up key points in a meeting, they are not exactly the same.

Meeting notes are exactly what the name means —, notes. These are short references to thoughts, priorities, deadlines, data and everything else that’s important to your meeting. However, minutes are more formal, and often include:

  • A list of everyone who attended the meeting
  • An absentee list
  • When the meeting began and when it adjourned
  • Key topics covered in the meeting
  • Any actions taken and/or decisions made during the meeting

The material contained in minutes is not that different from the meeting papers, but a more formal style follows. The explanation is that minutes serve as legal evidence of what’s covered in the sessions, and are regarded by the court and auditors as such.

Minutes serve as a core document that touches on everything that is important to the meeting, but you also want to take your own notes separately from the minutes of the meeting. Maybe note-taking helps with your creative process, or it makes it easier for you to understand how to document details. That is where notes from the meeting come in handy.

Although meeting notes aren’t as formal and organized as minutes, when writing them you do need to follow a certain structure. Otherwise, your notepad could end up cluttered with confusing shorthand sentences that offer very little context and detail.

The goal is to keep your notes as clear as possible without any major information being lost. Here are a few hints:

  1. Start taking meeting notes before the meeting.
    Sounds crazy, I realize. Meetings are long enough as they are, so perhaps not really enticing is the thought of spending more time talking about them. Preparation, however, will help you out here, particularly if you’re not experienced with taking notes (or tend to take the wrong details off during a meeting).Identify the purpose of the meeting before you get started. Set out what the meeting is about and what the expected outcome is.

From there, design an outline that includes details like:

  • Date and time of the meeting
  • Purpose of the meeting
  • Who is involved in this discussion
  • What should be accomplished
  • Any questions that need to be answered
  • Action items and next steps
  • Deadlines and milestones

Keep in mind that an informal conference with an official agenda would possibly not come along. If that’s the case, simply ask the person arranging the meeting a few questions that will help you define the intent of the conversation and the expected outcome.

For this situation we will suggest planning a list of questions by constructing the outline around the central goal. That way, you ‘re going to have an idea of what to watch for.

2. Don’t worry about capturing every word.
Think back to your days at college. Recall trying to write down every word that your algebra teacher said, hoping to catch something on the test? Around the same time, it was difficult to keep up and listen. Although many people write very little during meetings, it is equally inefficient to attempt to write down every word.

Consider dividing your notes into the following sections to boost efficiency:

  • Issues
  • Decisions
  • Action items
  • Questions

Seek to keep your sentences short, just write down keywords, decisions and assignments. Try using a version of the meeting minutes process for more formal meetings or occasions where you’re the appointed note-taker, which is simply a visual record of everything that happened at a meeting. Although meeting minutes are a whole other subject, collecting the most valuable details is a major part of the strategy.

3. Meeting notes should focus on what comes next.
One might say that capturing action items is the most important reason to take notes in the first place—the reason the meeting is happening at all. Be sure to write down all actionable items, decisions, and recommendations—and sum them up in your own words to reinforce your understanding of what’s supposed to happen next.

Record items as they come up, rather than after the meeting when time starts to mess with your memory. This will ensure that you capture the most accurate information.

4. Organize toward action.
Note-taking alone won’t help you retain information or remember due dates. You have to revisit that information to get the most value out of it. One of the hardest parts of note-taking is staying organized. So, after the meeting, add your notes to your CRM and turn action items into tasks, with reminders, due dates, and all.

5. Find a retention strategy that works for you.
Whether you’re a persistent highlighter or a believer documenting every word verbatim, bad news — these methods aren’t working very well. Some of the most important things about note-taking to remember is that if you want to develop your memory or learn new concepts, you need to put some significant effort into it.

6. Simplify your messages using codes
If you have a meeting at the end of the week, you probably won’t have the time to learn shorthand over the next few days. Or, maybe it isn’t worth it for you to learn shorthand because you only have four or five meetings a year. You can still speed up your writing by using simplified codes.

7. Taking quality meeting notes is easier than you think

Regardless of whether you are taking minutes or simply jotting down the key points of your latest meeting, keeping your notes as structured as possible is crucial. The above tips will help you avoid turning your notepad into an illegible mess.

Also, having strong note-taking skills does not mean recording the conversation word by word. This means being able to sum up relevant details in a few words, concentrating primarily on the things that need to be learned. You will be taking high-quality meeting notes in no time when you are able to do that.

Check out my related post: How to get honest feedback from your team?

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  1. Great advice! Works for both note-taking during meetings or during a class! Especially noted the point you mentioned on making an effort to remember the information jotted down in the meeting by going through it again, highlighting it, and forming to-do lists/tasks as next steps. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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